It's time to change the damn stateBy John Brinkerhoff | 09/17/2013 11:00pm
Perhaps one of the most courageous men in the history of this university is John L. Blackburn, the former dean of students for whom The University of Alabama’s Blackburn Institute is named. Firmly believing in the power of students to enact change, he was fond of commanding his students to “change the damn state.” During Gov. George Wallace’s Stand in the Schoolhouse Door, it was Blackburn who organized students to ensure a peaceful integration.
A few years before his death in 2009, he was asked by a Blackburn Institute fellow what students should do about segregation in the greek system. He told her that change would only occur when students demanded it.
Although it has taken several years, his charge is finally being fulfilled today.
This morning, a coalition of students, from the most hardcore independent in the Mallet Assembly to the biggest fraternity man on old row, faculty from all levels of prestige on the campus to alumni representing every walk of life are all united in front of Rose Administration around one idea: demanding change.
They have the courage to risk backlash from their organizations, the administration and their friends. And they most certainly do not have a grounds permit. It is truly a beautiful demonstration of what unity in the UA community means.
However, there is one critical component missing: the UA administration.
While it has finally acknowledged that discrimination on the basis of race actually occurred, it still seems to be unable to sacrifice its sacred cow of avoiding committing itself to change.
Justice cannot be produced when those with influence are unable look beyond their own potential liability. The diverse array of protesters outside Rose Administration is not asking for another statement. They are not asking for the creation of a task force that will enable students to air their problems without effect until they graduate. They are not asking for a short-term fix that mitigates a single symptom of the problem without addressing its core issues.
They are asking for a strong commitment to which the administration can be held accountable in the future. The past has shown, whether through greek accreditation in the early 1990s or the recruitment scandals of the early 2000s, that without this commitment, no change will occur.
This protest is the embodiment of what John L. Blackburn would have wanted. It is students empowered to lead this movement and fight for the betterment of Alabama. It is the great women who challenged racism and the two or more young black women who braved a cruel rush system. It is the faculty whose jobs are on the line. It is the alumni who traveled to speak out. It is the spirit of Alabama.
Today, the University stands at a crossroads. One way leads down the path of allowing the legacy of Jim Crow to continue and the other toward realizing the dream of Blackburn and so many other civil rights leaders who fought for equality. Refusing to let the sins of their grandfathers be their own, this group has elected the latter path.
If the administration would join them in honoring Blackburn’s legacy of facilitating change, then it should match the courage shown by these protesters and commit, not to “removing barriers” or “doing the right thing,” but to implementing tangible reforms to the recruitment process so this never happens again, removing the faculty found responsible for coercing impressionable students into racism and, most importantly, actually integrating the sororities.
While this ugly problem has existed for decades, none of these commitments has been made. We have the opportunity to change this campus, this state. And not simply for us, but for future generations who may enter the Capstone and witness a more unified campus.
Robert Witt, Paul Bryant Jr., Judy Bonner, it is high time to change the damn state.
John Brinkerhoff is the Opinion Editor of The Crimson White.